Turban Searches Humiliating, Local Sikhs Say

January 30, 2009

Author: Tom Lochner

Source: West County Times


Some Sikh men say they are subjected to systematic and humiliating searches of their turbans whenever they fly out of Oakland International Airport, but a federal airport security official says their complaint is unjustified.

J.P. Singh, co-founder of the Sikh temple in El Sobrante, says he was subjected to a secondary search for explosives all six times he flew out of Oakland in 2008. In eight other U.S. airports that Singh flew out of last year, he was not pulled aside for a secondary search, he said.

"Once in a while, randomly, that's OK," said Singh, a seismic engineer who also is a consultant to the U.S. Department of Justice on cultural sensitivity issues. "But to be humiliated every time I fly out of Oakland, that's not OK."

The Sikh Coalition, a nationwide advocacy group, recently put Oakland International at the top of its list of "problem airports," which it defines as "those from which Sikhs report a nearly 100 percent secondary search rate of their turbans."

All 18 incident reports from travelers departing from Oakland received by the coalition in the fourth quarter of 2008 involved enhanced screening, according to its latest quarterly "TSA Report Card." (TSA refers to the Transportation Security Administration, the airport security branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.)